The sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos

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The tomb of Ahiram was hailed as one of the most exciting finds by Semitic scholars, the tomb now in the national museum of Beirut, is widely accepted to be from around 1000 B.C. When the tomb was discovered by the French archaeologist Pierre Montet, it soon became apparent that it was an important link to early Bronze-age Phoenician history. The town of Byblos, where the discovery was made, is by many considered to be one of the oldest constantly inhabited towns in the world. Its kings at times standing toe to toe with the pharaohs of Egypt ( the greatest example being when the last ruler of the 20th dynasty in Egypt was on his way out).

The city kingdom of Byblos was a key trading nation in the Mediterranean, sitting a the foot of the mount Lebanon mountain range, the Phoenician wealth of Cedar wood provided a well used and important resource for timber poor Egypt. This trade is exemplified by a report by an Egyptian trader, called the report of Wenamun. The report tells of a difficult journey made by the trader, on the way from Egypt, Wenamun is robbed and on his arrival at Byblos, the king says that his gifts are not good enough. Wenamun has to return to Egypt to bring back more gifts for the king of Byblos in order to complete his mission for wood ( most likely Cedar wood). The misadventure reputedly occurs under the reign of Rameses XI in Egypt and Zakarbat of Byblos.

One of the key things of interest on the tomb is the inscription, which is known to be the oldest form of writing for the Phoenician people and Northern Semitic people. This has extra importance when the Phoenician alphabet is considered to be the root of languages spoken around the Mediterranean basin.

The inscription reads:

THE COFFIN WHICH (IT) TOBAAL, SON OF AHIRAM, KING OF BYBLOS, MADE FOR HIS FATHER AS HIS AB(O) DE IN ETERNITY, AND IF ANY KING OR ANY GOVENOR OR ANY ARMY COMMANDER ATTACKS BYBLOS AND EXPOSES THIS COFFIN, LET HIS JUDICIAL SCEPTER BE BROKEN, LET HIS ROYAL THROWN BE OVERTHROWN, AND LET PEACE FLEE FROM BYBLOS; AND AS FOR HIM, LET A VAGABOND (?) EFFACE HIS ENSCRIPTION (!)

Unfortunately and rather ironically, the inscription did not prevent robbers from looting the tomb in antiquity. It is interesting to not that King Ahiram is not attested by any other source other than his tomb, and so the nature of his rule can only be seen by the wealth and depictions on his sarcophagus. On this tomb is an engraving showing the king on his throne before a feast laden table. The tomb sits above four carved lions, the lid the tenons are formed by the heads of two more lions. Another side of the tomb depicts a funerary procession of courtiers. The mystery of mid bronze-age Lebanon still remains despite various clues such as the tomb of Ahiram. Although it seems recent excavations near the ancient city of Tyre have uncovered a palace complex in a place called Tel El Burak. It is hoped work on this ruin will shed more light on this period of Phoenician history.

The Syrian and Eyptian influences are showcased throughout the city and it’s museum. As a   trading city kingdom and the artisanship of the nation shows these influences and celebrates them with accomplishment. The tomb itself sits in the National museum of Beirut in pride of place and remains a compelling and mysterious artifact for historians on this ancient powerful Mediterranean culture. The influence of the Phoenician city kingdoms has left an indelible mark of influence on near western civilization although its scope is unquantifiable and lies somewhat cryptically hidden in artifacts around the Mediterranean basin.

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